THE BLOG

Why Are Business Leaders Still Backing Trump?

17/08/2017 12:02
andykatz via Getty Images

It's obvious why business leaders want to join organisations like the Manufacturing Council that President Trump formed when he took office in January. They get direct access to the president and they can interact with their peers from other large companies - it's a no-brainer. Even if you don't personally support the political ideology of the president most business leaders would accept an invitation to be at the top table.

But what happens when the government is in total disarray and the president himself is seen to be defending white-supremacist protestors to such a shocking extent that even his favourite station, Fox News, expressed dismay?

Suddenly it doesn't look so good to be hanging out on the golf course or dining at the White House. It's one thing to be a liberal business leader from California and accepting that the president is a Republican (but we can work together to create jobs) and quite another to hear the leader of the free world talk about the way those KKK protestors were being provoked by "the alt-left."

The intended aim for the Manufacturing Council was to create jobs. There are certainly vacancies on the council now. The New York Times even predicted that it may fall apart as one leader after another quits in disgust.

But some leaders have said that they want to stay because the president is shaping trade policies that will affect their companies. The thing is, which side of history do they want to be on. The legendary academic and management consultant Peter Drucker always said that a business has a greater purpose than just returning cash to shareholders. It exists within a community - both the employees and the company itself shape the place where they live. Drucker also once said that there there is no such thing as business ethics, only ethics.

Are the leaders of the companies who are continuing to work with Donald Trump considering this? Companies such as GE, Dell, Boeing, Campbell's Soup, and Whirlpool all insist on remaining in the council for the good of their company. Surely it would send a stronger message to the people of the USA if those business leaders took a stand and said that they want to play no role in an administration that cannot call out racism? Are they waiting for the lynchings to return before taking a stand?

Do they really not think that consumers will not organise against them? People have a wide choice of computer equipment manufacturers. Will they keep buying Dell when they see that Dell is afraid to take a stand against the KKK? Or how about your choice of soup? Heinz or Campbell's tonight then?

Companies like IBM and VW have their own dark history that is mostly forgotten, because it's an embarrassment. Why was Thomas Watson selling IBM technology to Nazi Germany in the 1930s when it was already clear how Jews were being abused and removed from society? VW used slave labour from concentration camps. These stories have been told before and the companies involved have atoned for their former sins, but how many times do business leaders need to be reminded that they should not be chasing a dollar if they are damaging the life of their employees and the community where they operate?

The people who voted for Donald Trump are not stupid. They just feel let down. Globalisation, skilled migration, and technological advancement have all created a more competitive environment where factories no longer need thousands of employees. A few robots and some smart coders can keep places running that used to require an army of workers.

I don't agree personally with Trump's wall-building rhetoric, but it's easy to see why it is popular because the world is moving too fast for many people who are still following pre-Internet rules. Listen to this thoughtful New York Public Library interview with MIT professor Noam Chomsky if you really want to explore where US politics may go to from here. In my opinion, the USA should be thinking of harnessing the lead it already has in many emerging technologies such as clean energy, next generation batteries, and self-driving cars - not encouraging more coal mining. This industrial lead may easily shift to China if the USA does not get behind people like Elon Musk and look to the future, rather than the past.

But this argument is not about policies or economic ideology, it is about race hatred and human decency. Even Trump's own party (and congress) is dismayed that he has failed to stamp on the disgusting actions of the KKK and their friends, but then he is a man who boasts about f**king ni***rs when out on the golf links. The business leaders who continue to take a seat at the table with this president may find that their decision will affect their own career, or even the future of their entire company if they don't make the right decision for humanity now.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS